By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
The nearly 20,000 fans, many of them wearing green jerseys bearing their idol's new number, rose to their feet in a loud ovation. With measured poise, Garnett smiled a tight smile, pounded his heart a couple of times, and, after little more than a minute, walked off the court to nurse his bruised abdomen from the locker room. It was by far the loudest and largest crowd Target Center has seen this year.
On the home-team bench with his gaze fixed on the floor, Al Jefferson sat quietly through the reunion. Jefferson had been insisting leading up to the game that it was just like any other. But when you're playing your old team fresh off a trade, in front of the first full house of your brief Minnesota career, when at least half of that crowd bought tickets to see a player on the other team, and when it's your only game this season broadcast on ESPN—or anywhere else on widely available national television, for that matter—it's hard to argue it's just another game.
After three frustrating quarters stymied by the defense of Kendrick Perkins, his old practice partner, Jefferson made his case in the fourth quarter. With his team trailing by 2, Jefferson stood 15 feet from the basket, daring his defender to come closer. He took the shot and nailed it—his fourth straight basket for the Wolves.
VISIT OUR SLIDESHOW GALLERY with photos by Nick Vlcek.
Doc Rivers, the coach of the Celtics, called a time out. Jefferson high-fived his teammates hard enough to remove arms from sockets. As he walked to the huddle, his eyes were narrowed, his gaze ferocious. The cheering was almost as loud as it had been during Garnett's introduction—almost. But with the game tied and only seconds left, Jefferson passed up the winning shot. Marko Jaric missed an open look, and the Celtics got the ball back, ran the length of the floor, and scored the game-winning basket on a put-back as time expired. Final score: Celtics 88, Timberwolves 86.
But if Al Jefferson had been paying attention to anything but his fury and disappointment, he'd have noticed the collective groan of the fans. They'd been pulling for him. Even the ones wearing #5 Celtics jerseys.